By Richard Hayes, District Representative, Southwest
What Is A Disciple, Anyway?
Our English word for disciple comes from the Greek word “mathetes”, which means, “to be a disciple” or “to make a disciple”.** Discipleship forms a central component of the Christian life, as well as a central objective of the obedient Christian life (Matthew 28:18-20).
Many ideas have been espoused as to what makes a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here are a few:
- Disciples are learners: Acquire ongoing teaching from Jesus and the Scripture.
- Disciples are committed believers: Discipleship is reserved for committed believers only.
- Disciples are ministers: Only believers in vocational ministry are disciples.
- Disciples are converts: A two-tiered approach where one can be saved and then get serious about following Jesus later in life.
- Disciples are converts who are in the process of discipleship: Discipleship begins at conversion and continues throughout life.
While one or more of the above views may contain an element of truth, one thing remains certain: Christians, church leaders and pastors are uncertain, or confused, as to what a disciple of Jesus actually is. One New Testament authority suggests the following definition of a disciple, “…In the Christian sense, a disciple of Jesus is one who has come to Him for eternal life, has claimed Him as Savior and God, and has embarked upon the life of following Him.” ***
So, discipleship could be summed up as: the life-long process of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We often refer to this process as “progressive sanctification.”
The goal of the Christian life really isn’t complex.
It is to become like Jesus in our character and conduct. We simply imitate – become like the One whom we are following – Jesus.
We want to grow more like Jesus personally, but we also want to model Christlikeness for others by the way we live, teach and encourage them toward that same goal – to be like Jesus!
One of our Associate Missionaries, Steve Moldenhauer, currently serving at our field in Raymond, California, shared that he saw the definition of a disciple in Matthew 10:25a, which reads, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master…” (ESV).
We are followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the very moment we, by the work of the Holy Spirit, believed, we embarked upon a lifelong journey of following Jesus, becoming like Him in our character and conduct.
We became disciples.
Following Jesus in Real Life
One of the most difficult places to follow Jesus is at home.
I don’t think I’m alone in this thinking, that when disagreements arise and we are in the midst of a heated discussion with our spouses or friends, we sometimes do not react or choose words, as Jesus would have.
Following Jesus can become a lofty-sounding endeavor. We can sound spiritual as we list off how many Bible studies we have completed, or how many times we have read through the Bible, or how many hours we spend in our prayer closet. We can talk about how many people we have shared Christ with and expound upon all spiritual counsel we have distributed throughout the week.
While these things have their place, let me ask you this…
How is your relationship with your spouse and children – or those closest to you? We can talk about following Jesus all day long without ever really following Him in real life, and real life for all of us begins at home, in a relationship between a husband and wife, or between a parent and their children.
When we can follow Jesus in our marriages, we can follow Him anywhere.
The flip side of this is if you cannot follow Jesus in your marriage, just where is it you think you can follow Him? When we realize that we have embarked upon a lifelong journey of following Jesus, we are faced with the reality that life begins at home in our most intimate relationships.
Here we come face to face with the one whom the Lord gave us to walk alongside through life as we both grow, mature and ultimately become like Jesus in our character and conduct.
Making Disciples: Applications for the Church
If we want the individuals in our churches, as well as the leaders and potential leaders in our churches, to be obedient followers and imitators of Jesus Christ, then how do we facilitate this process?
It seems that we are often prone to have people read a book, take a class, watch a video, listen to a CD or the like, but I am not so sure that one disciple rubbing elbows with another more mature disciple is often in the mix. It seems that we often fall into a cultural trap of measuring things, How many classes were attended? How many verses were memorized? How many videos were watched? How many CD’s were listened to? How many books were read?
We are prone to think leaders are qualified because of their head knowledge. Perhaps we need to refine our focus to consider what Jesus Himself modeled while on earth.
Jesus took a small group of men and invested in them. These men were transformed in character, conduct and in their worldview because of the time Jesus had invested in them.
This approach is much more time consuming and demanding in terms of relationship. It certainly requires head knowledge, but the ultimate goal of being like Jesus in character and conduct is more fully realized.
The measurement should not be the curriculum that has been completed, rather the proven character of the individual. The qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 focus on character above accomplishment.
I hope my musings spur each of us on to even greater thoughts and application as we each seek to be obedient in making disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.
**(Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981, p. 175)
***(Michael J. Wilkins, Following The Master, Discipleship in the Steps of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992, p. 41)